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TL;DR – Korean vs North American Beauty Standards

August 19, 2011


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This week’s TL;DR is an epic topic: What is the standard for beauty in Korea and how does it differ from North America, and vice versa? Wow, that’s a doosie of a question…it feels like we should submit this blog for grading once we’re finished with it (if we stay up all night and hand it in on time). Well to begin with, we should mention that these beauty points are what we feel the Korean media emphasizes as beauty, and what our Korean friends might mention in passing conversation, but this does not represent every Korean. It feels like we shouldn’t even have to mention that point, but we’re trying to cut off the “I’M KOREAN AND YOU’RE WRONG” comments from happening. ^^ We can’t cover every point here so we’re going to go with our Top 3.

Pale Complexions vs Tanning

Jersey Shore Tanning

Umm, that's just gross.

It seems to us that Korea has finely tuned the idea of beauty into several traits which are currently trendy, but we have no idea if they were always trendy or if this is a recent thing. The most apparent one is lack of tanning. Anywhere you go in Korea you’ll see people walking around with beautiful parasols, ajumma visors or hats, arm covers, and just about every type of cream comes with a 15+ SPF built into it. The heated debate about why Korean men and woman want to have pale skin falls into two categories. Once being the historical idea: in a nutshell, tanned skin means you are a poor peasant working outdoors and pale skin represents luxury, wealth, and lack of wrinkles. The other argument being that Korean people are trying to look more and more Caucasian, which obviously gets a lot of angry comments from Koreans. We don’t know which side is more correct, but Martina is already Caucasian and she has always hidden from the sun under parasols (even when in Canada) to prevent her skin from instantly burning, so I guess that makes her…a vampire. This seems to really differ from other parts of the world, especially where having a golden tan = going on vacation. The idea of going to a tanning bed is just a horrifying idea to all our Korean friends; even on the beach you can rent pre-set up beach umbrellas to avoid the sun at all costs.

Mono eyelids vs Double eyelids

Gain Mono Eyelid

Gain Doesn't have Double Eyelids, and she's freaking beautiful

Ah, the eyelid. Something that we, as North Americans, have never seemed to notice until we came to Korea. Who knew that tiny piece of skin was SO important to looking beautiful? Having “double eyelids”, or a fold/crease above your eye is a concept majority of North Americans have just taken for granted. In fact, we don’t even have a concrete name for it, but in Korea, it’s 쌍꺼풀 (ssanggeopul). If you’re a celebrity, you probably had surgery done to get it, but there are still some people (like Gain and Rain) that haven’t had it done. If you can’t afford surgery, then you might just go for some Double Eyelid Tape instead. Of course, arguments rage about why this surgery is so popular in Korea, and while many people say it’s to achieve a more Western looking eye, others argue that it’s just for the sake of beauty. We think the real question to be asked here is why having big eyes or a double eyelid is considered to be beautiful? It’s not like Rain is suddenly not good looking because of his monolid, he just looks distinctly Asian and we don’t think that there is anything wrong with that.

The V-Line Face

V Line Face Drink

Putting two bottles by your face, or in your stomach, will not change your face.

The concept of the “v-line” jaw being a coveted beauty trait makes us…uncomfortable. From a North American perspective, you’re either born with a certain jaw shape or you’re not. You’re face is round, oval, heart, triangle, square, rectangular and so on. Really good hairdressers can tell what style will suit you based just on your face shape and you can look at many celebrities (who all have different types of face shapes) for inspiration. In Korea, not so much. We have never seen anybody praised for having a cute, round face or a striking heart shaped face. It’s literally the “v-line” jaw bone or it’s not reported. The reason why this makes us so uncomfortable is because there is plastic surgery readily available if you want to shave down your jaw bone. We see ads on the subway as if it’s totally an everyday event to change your entire jaw structure. The other reason reports on the epic v-line makes us uncomfortable is because majority of those photos taken by celebs are angled in a oh-so-clever fashion to create the illusion of a “v-line”, but in this illusion, tons of products are sold to help “trim” your jaw and face fat. Sorry Korea, we just don’t believe that a plastic face roller can change my face size. With that idea, the vast amount of time I spend sleeping on one side of my face should have horribly distorted my face by now.

In conclusion Professor Internet, it seems to us that growing up in a multi-cultural society (anywhere in the world) has a huge effect on what one thinks is beautiful. We feel like this is the most important thing to remember when comparing beautify standards of Korea to North America. As a Canadian from Toronto, it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint what an “ideal” Canadian looking woman would look like, since we grew up with so many different face shapes, skin tones, hair types, hair colours, body sizes, and eye colours.



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TL;DR – Korean vs North American Beauty Standards


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  1. I get shit for being dark. Stop sugar coating South Korea’s obvious intolerance for darker people. These two idiots are obviously being biased because Asians tend to worship European looking people. How about you two cracker ass crackers put yourselves in my shoes for day and have people recommend skin whitening shit. Oh and my favorite is when old farts and kids rub your skin and touch your hair without permission, treating you like a zoo animal. On a serious note, the most fked up is when people are hesitant and scared of you. :-) Call me butthurt and over reactive, but this shit really happens and it’s time people start acknowledging it. ~TimeToOpenYourEyesAndSpeakOutAgainstAbuse~EvenIfItsNotDirectedAtYou

    8 months ago
  2. j

    Don’t put sugar coat on it. Some people with distinct eyes are pretty (like kim yuna) and yet some people with distinct eyes are ugly. Just like some whites are born ugly and some are not. Ugly people comes from everywhere with any shape. You are just not admitting it and putting a sugar coat on it. And you are saying people who had eye surgery wanted to be white? It’s funny because my father was naturally born with ceased eyes and he is asian. I guess he is secretely half white then. Judgemental people makes me really sick.

    1 year ago
    • Did you not read what was written?
      It said some say that people change their eyes to look western but others do it for the sake of beauty. They NEVER said if you get eye surgery it is because you want to look white.
      People who don’t read all what was said make me sick.
      And you think distinct eyelids matter because of YOUR culture. In other countries or cultures, they might not care at all what your eyelids look like. There is no “sugar coating” it, this is stating that this is cultural bias. Beauty is arbitrary. What matters to you may not matter to someone else. Where I come from, teeth need to be straight and white but being fat doesn’t matter. In another city nearby, being tall and thin matters more. It depends on the area.
      With that being said, you are the judgemental one. I don’t care what someone looks like as long as they are healthy. No one gets to choose their eyelids, skin, or bone structure and no one should be ridiculed for it. Yes, uglies, average lookers, and pretty people exist, no matter the race. But this topic is over cultural standards, specifically South Korea.

      11 months ago
  3. I think that korean girls have smaller breasts, here is a solution http://www.impressive-breast.com

    1 year ago
  4. Thanks for your input :)
    I was just scrolling through the newly submitted comments and was surprised that someone was reading such an old post.
    In regards to what you said, most of the fans here do not take what Simon and Martina say as the be-all-and-end-all. Many people ask them to talk about topics that can be very touchy, thus we appreciate that they are giving their own personal opinion from their own personal experiences, which may not be reflective of the ENTIRE Korean society, especially since they’re speaking as foreigners and not locals. They try to include disclaimers in these cases, but it is difficult to do that for every point that they discuss – it would end up being a very, very long video. I’m sorry if you were offended.

    3 years ago
  5. Oh, there is definitely a western beauty ideal.  It’s just that what we choose to focus on allows for enough variation to give the impression of variety (if that makes sense).  I’m staring at Marie Claire right now, and it’s telling me that my: 

    Nose should be long and narrow

    Lips should be pouty. 

    Hair should be shiny and bouncy (color doesn’t matter, as long as it’s shiny)

    Body should be thin, but not too thin.  I should also be tall, but not too tall.   Breasts, bottoms and hips can vary (my humps).

    Face shape is not really important, though models tend to have oval shapes.  

    It’s a standard that favors Europeans, but by allowing wiggle room with face shape, humps, and hair color, it can accommodate any ethnic background.  Check out Chris Rock’s documentary “Good Hair”, where he discusses the BILLIONS of dollars African-American women spend every year in pursuit of “ideal” hair.   

    4 years ago
  6. My asian friends always tell me how jealous they are that I have double eyelids. I think this whole obsession with a specific beauty is just silly. Don’t you wish they are able to see different types of beauty and that it can be exotic, not ugly? No wonder there are so many clones in Korea. (I can say this for myself since I am Korean, raised in a 100% western culture.)

    4 years ago
  7. Recently I like my skin to be light o-o but in the sun i get tan so fast, i almost never burn >.>

    You know a very long time ago it was considered beautiful if you were chubby around the stomach o-o you have alot of paintings from that time with women like that =)

    4 years ago
  8. TOP knows how to dance. What do you think he’s been doing for 5 years. Just standing there?

    4 years ago
  9. lol my Korean friend loves my fair (pale) skin. She says it’s really pretty and that she wants skin like mine. The only reason I’m fair is because I use sunscreen because if I’m out in the sun for too long I’ll burn. Or it’ll look like I got burnt but then really I just got tanner :P I’m Japanese btw~ and OMG when I saw Gain I was like “YEAAAAH!! GAIN!!! I LOVE HER!!! WOOOOO” lol

    4 years ago
  10. Hey Simon where did you get that t-shirt on this vid?

    4 years ago
  11. Hey Simon where did you get that t-shirt on this vid?

    4 years ago
  12. Hey Simon where did you get that t-shirt on this vid?

    4 years ago
  13. Hey Simon where did you get that t-shirt on this vid?

    4 years ago
  14. Hey Simon where did you get that t-shirt on this vid?

    4 years ago
  15. Hey Simon where did you get that t-shirt on this vid?

    4 years ago
  16. Hey Simon where did you get that t-shirt on this vid?

    4 years ago
  17. Korea is more of a trend country, headstrong and prideful. My friend straight from Korea is probably one of the most narrow minded people I’ve ever met… She’s fairly ignorant and does that whole cutesy act that disgusts me so much I’ve wanted to smack it out of her. It’s probably because Korea isn’t so diverse so we who lives in more diverse areas should be more open minded to the fact that people in Korea just don’t have the chances like we do.
    I’ve been living in the U.S. and I’m fairly open minded to new things, and I would one day love to move back to Korea, but my friend who returned from Korea after living in the U.S. told me I’ll probably hate it there the first year. She never gave me a reason but I think she may be right.

    4 years ago
    • You know what, some westerners are narrow minded too. They underestimate non-Western cultures bc they think their culture is the standard. For example, some Americans get mad when people of the country they are traveling in cannot speak Enlgish. But I admit that Koreans are relatively not used to accepting something new and different. I’m korean BTW.

      2 years ago
  18. Wowwwwwwww. It’s totally what I wanna say. :)
    yessssssssssss, every korean seems like have simillar taste or view toward beauty, esp appearence of women. I think u guys mayb saw some of ur students have plastic surgery…. I think it’s tragic .. :(

    4 years ago
  19. Rather than benefits, I think it’s more of self satisfaction

    4 years ago
  20. I lol’d so hard when ubersexual was brought up! hahahahahahahaha, made my day XD

    4 years ago
  21. I lol’d so hard when ubersexual was brought up! hahahahahahahaha, made my day XD

    4 years ago
  22. Pale, “caucasian” skin tone is an ideal that is common in most Asian countries, not just Korea. I think the reason is because for a lot of Asian cultures, it’s been long believed that paler skin signifies that you’re upper class (ie. you’re not subjected to having to work outside and therefore get dark). And it’s not just about staying out of the sun, but there are many products available in Asia that are supposed to whiten or bleach your skin, which isn’t necessarily a good thing either. In fact, don’t a lot of BB Creams claim that they whiten the skin? If you watch Asian television, you will notice that most celebrities are paler-skinned. I’ve even noticed this watching Mexican telenovas. As for the double eye lid thing, I never really understood the desire for that as I have double eyelids myself, but my husband has expressed wanting to get the surgery done on himself! o_0

    4 years ago
  23. I don’t understand why my comment that a barbie-style look is technically an American “standard” of beauty was deleted.  So many people are writing negative crap on here and I was just pointing out that yes, blonde hair and blue eyes are something that at least a good amount of people see as something desirable. 

    4 years ago
  24. have u tried baviphat slim v line maker? it sounds like a hoax to me… =/ I’d prefer the face roller

    4 years ago
  25. have u tried baviphat slim v line maker? it sounds like a hoax to me… =/ I’d prefer the face roller

    4 years ago
  26. Since you talked about this in your post, what is your opinion on Suju’s Shindong getting double-eyelid surgery? I’m just curious to know your point of view concerning celebrities :)

    4 years ago
  27. Since you talked about this in your post, what is your opinion on Suju’s Shindong getting double-eyelid surgery? I’m just curious to know your point of view concerning celebrities :)

    4 years ago
  28. Since you talked about this in your post, what is your opinion on Suju’s Shindong getting double-eyelid surgery? I’m just curious to know your point of view concerning celebrities :)

    4 years ago
  29. Since you talked about this in your post, what is your opinion on Suju’s Shindong getting double-eyelid surgery? I’m just curious to know your point of view concerning celebrities :)

    4 years ago
  30. Since you talked about this in your post, what is your opinion on Suju’s Shindong getting double-eyelid surgery? I’m just curious to know your point of view concerning celebrities :)

    4 years ago
  31. Since you talked about this in your post, what is your opinion on Suju’s Shindong getting double-eyelid surgery? I’m just curious to know your point of view concerning celebrities :)

    4 years ago
  32. I have a question. What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to accept living in Korea that you don’t really like?

    4 years ago
  33. Awesome vid lol

    4 years ago
  34. Hi, Thanks for the reply.

    Some of my expressions were quite exaggerated, but the point is you could
    pick whose nose is the most beautiful if I give you several images of
    nose shape. Your friends would not agree on the ‘one’ nose shape, but I
    am sure that significant majority might agree with one nose shape and
    they say it is ‘better than’ the others and the one might be very close
    to the westerner’s traditional nose shape. I cannot say the only ‘one’,
    but I am sure there is one ‘nose’ shape that everybody admires and loves
    (people who grew up with western culture). You bring the example of
    Julia Roberts, but she is not a good example because we like her not
    just because of her physical beauty, but her image that represents beauty.
    As I can remind her easily, many others know her because she is famous
    world star! I would say her image is closer to ‘attractive’ than
    ‘beautiful’ because she have strong character.

    My major arguing point is the value of ‘equality’ is too ‘strong’ in
    the N America especially in US. It is obviously good phenomenon, but
    this social tendency has led people in US (I have never been Canada, so
    actually I cannot say Canada has same tendency, but I think two
    countries are very similar.) to conceal their inner mind; They are tend to
    pretend (Im sorry. I use strong word) that they follow the value of
    equality in every issues and many of them believe they behave with value of equality, but I do not
    think so. People say a dignity as a job of president and plumber is equally respectable, but we frankly cannot agree that value judgement;
    people say with their lips about equality, but they don’t think so in their inner mind.
    It is quite off example, but I want to say that Western culture has
    produced, consumed, spread and sometimes forced ‘the value'(including
    beauty) for a long time; we cannot make a clean slate even if we wish to
    in reality.

    What I do not like is the weird idea of ‘SOME’ N Americans who insist
    ‘we have value on equality, but you Asians don’t. what a mass’. The
    funny thing is the fact that they don’t think and act with the value of equality in reality.

    p.s As a same logic that you bring, the reason why I watch EATYOURKIMCHI
    is the foreigners’ points of view toward Koreans are the view that I
    cannot see about Korean because I am Korean. And I can see something
    that you cannot see because I am not N American.

    One more p.s. Did you know that ? usually when N Americans say ‘no
    offence’, it means ‘I already made offence or I will make a offence, so
    be prepared’.– thats what I feel. No offence.


    4 years ago
    • You’re going way the hell out there and explaining political and social views of a mixed continent. There’s no way in hell of pin-point one set standard in North America because you just can’t when there’s white, black, yellow, brown and in between around every corner.

      4 years ago
  35. Seeing these different cultural beauty standards reminds me of how in first world countries being skinny is beautiful, but in other countries like Uganda being fat is considered beautiful.

    4 years ago
  36. There is no one in this world that is ugly, Vani, i think you are beautiful. :)

    4 years ago
  37. I’m a Flipina with tanned skin. Not so dark but not so light either. I used to hate my skin tone (teased about it by friends in the Philippines when I was younger), but I was once in this play (Moved to Dubai) and a Belgian girl was doing my make up. She said that she’d kill to have my skin tone, because when she goes sunbathing, she burns. And when she puts tanning lotion, she turns orange. After that, I started to love my skin. ^_^

    4 years ago
  38. Actually most Asians do prefer fair skin cause we think its beautiful . But we try not to get tanned because we don’t think its healthy cause the sun damages the skin and it causes you to age… etc .

    4 years ago
  39. MSA

    I’ve got to say, where I live tanning is pretty popular and most people my mother’s age will chide at me for being so pale. I do agree that something needs to be done with my skin (XD) it’s not white but sickly pale. Even so, I cannot stand to tan. Last time I went to the beach and got this nice, olive tan – I accepted it at the beginning, but then my face started getting darker and darker and it looked as if I were dirty, not tanned. So I can understand them – some skins just haven’t been made for tanning XD

    4 years ago
  40. People trying to avoid getting a tan is because they do not want to look like a peasant . Unfortunately, Koreans have pale skin and it turns dark very easily if one is exposed to the sun for even a short while. The aristocratic class that existed up to the early 20th century did not have to work in the farm fields and had pale skin unlike the peasants. It is analogous to Americans having not a good image on Caucasian Americans living in the south and have a deep tan. (a.k.a rednecks) 

    4 years ago